In this step you will learn how to assess the data collected in the previous step against benchmarks. This analysis can reveal whether your country is complying with key aspects of its human rights obligations regarding education.

Importance of benchmarks

The data you have collected for youroutcome indicators will generally not tell you much about the level of enjoyment of the right to education. For instance, if you found that the secondary completion rate is 89%, you will be able to say that there is an 11% shortfall from the ideal, but you would not be able to tell if an 89% secondary completion rate is very high or very low in relation to the country’s development level, or whether the country has made progress in ensuring this aspect of the right to education.

Therefore, it is often necessary to compare outcome data with various types of reference points, targets or benchmarks against which it can be judged.

Types of benchmarks

For the purposes ofhuman rights monitoring, we recommend using one of the following types of benchmarks against which to compare human rights indicators:

A commitment either by a State or by a specific government administration

If a State, government or institution makes a commitment that binds them (measured using structural indicators), then it is possible to hold that body to account. A State may make legal commitments, such as ratifying ahuman rights treaty, enshrining the right to education in its constitution or enacting education legislation. A legal commitment is the highest form of commitment a State can make and therefore benchmarks associated with laws are particularly powerful when used to pressurise the government. There are also softer forms of commitment, for instance the adoption of education policies (which may include nationally determined benchmarks) and political commitment to development goals such as theEducation 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action andSustainable Development Goal 4 on Education, to which governments can be held accountable (although these development agenda are not fully aligned with human rights standards). In both cases, the commitment itself should also be scrutinised, as it could be flawed from a human rights perspective.

Nationally determined benchmarks

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors implementation of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recommends inGeneral Comment 1 that States set goals and benchmarks for each convention right because they provide an “extremely valuable indication of progress”. To find nationally determined benchmarks, it may be useful to look atState party reports.

A past value of the same outcome indicator

By comparing data for the same indicator over time, it is possible to discern whether the level of enjoyment of the right to education has increased or decreased. Although decreasing levels of enjoyment are not evidence of a de facto violation of the right to education, it may be indicative of the State failing toprogressively realise the right to education, or the State takingretrogressive measures, an issue which could be elucidated when analysing education laws and policies (see Step 3).

Countries from the same region or with the same level of economic development

Cross-country comparisons can reveal whether the level of enjoyment of the right of education is lower than expected given the country’s level of development (as measured byGDP per capita) which is typically similar to other countries in the same region. For instance, you may have found that your country has significantly lower levels of an outcome indicator than other countries in the same region, even though your country has the same or higher levels of economic development. Such findings would beindicative of a problem in the progressive realisation of the right to education according to maximum available resources.

Disaggregated national data (male / female, indigenous / non-indigenous, etc)

In order to identify inequalities in access to and quality of education, you can comparedisaggregated data within and between groups, for example enrolment rates of boys compared to girls, or ethnic minorities against the general population. Ensuring non-discrimination and equal treatment is aminimum core obligation of the right to education; therefore a gap in a given indicator between two or more groups is evidence of a potential violation of the right to education, which would require further investigation through the analysis of laws and policies (see Step 3).

What can be measured with benchmarks?

The following table provides an illustrative list of simple methods for comparing data collected for outcome indicators with relevant benchmarks in order to assess the various dimensions of State obligations pertaining to the right to education. 

State Obligation


Illustrative Question

Measuring essential minimum levels of the enjoyment of the right to education

Compare data for outcome indicators relevant to the right to education against GDP per capita, making a comparison of your country with other countries of the same region or otherrelevant groupings

Are the levels of the relevant outcome indicator in your country below the level typically observed in other countries in the region with similar levels of GDP per capita?

Compare data for key outcome indicators with relevant legal or political commitments made by the State

Has your country achieved the levels of secondary completion rates promised by the government? If not, how large is the shortfall?

Measuring progressive realisation according tomaximum available resources


Examine your country’s rates of progress in improving data for outcome indicators compared with other countries in the same region or political block

Has your country made progress, or has it regressed, over time in achieving the desired levels for outcome indicators? If your country has made progress over time, has the progress made beenlarger or smaller than that of other countries in the same region?

Compare rates of progress with goals to which your country has committed

Is your country on course to achievetarget 4.6 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education?

Compare data for outcome indicators over time against GDP per capita growth in your country and other countries in the region

Has the rate of progress for an outcome indicator (egpercentage of students at the lowest level of reading proficiency) been slow in your country compared to poorer neighbouring countries, especially when contrasted with its economic growth?

Measuring inequality in enjoyment of the right to education across different groups, including:

  • Gender groups
  • Ethnic groups    
  • Indigenous / non-indigenous  
  • Rural / urban       
  • Geographic regions
  • Economic groups (wealth quintiles)
  • Persons with and without disabilities

Compare disaggregated data for each marginalised group (to each other and to the national average) to identify inequalities

Is the percentage of girls finishing secondary school much lower than that of boys or vice versa? 


Compare levels of enjoyment over time


Are the average scores in the mathematics, science or reading scale much lower for children belonging to an ethnic minority than for other children in the country and do they appear to be getting worse? 

If inequality levels of the outcome indicator in your country are being reduced, compare rate of progress with those of other countries of same region

Are these inequalities higher or lower than in other countries in the region? Has the progress made by your country in reducing inequality been bigger or smaller than that of other countries in same region or at the same level of economic development?

Examinemultiple forms of inequality by comparing further disaggregated data for outcome indicators of people who belong to more than one marginalised group to corresponding marginalised groups and the general population

Do indigenous girls have similar levels of enjoyment of access to education to 1) indigenous boys and 2) to the general population?

Source: Adapted from Felner, E (2008) A new frontier in economic and social rights advocacy? Turning quantitative data into a tool for human rights accountability, Sur International Journal on Human Rights, Year 5, Number 9